OPT and Traveling Abroad

The guidance below is designed to provide additional context and guidance for those in the process of applying for OPT or are currently on their benefit of OPT. Along with reviewing the guidance below and before making any travel arrangements, you are encouraged to:

  • Review OIE's Travel Guidance Website website for more information about traveling abroad, travel signatures, recommended documents to carry upon re-entry
  • Review the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information about current U.S. travel entry policies and restrictions
  • Ensure to consult with your airline with any questions in advance of your flight date to ensure you are aware of any additional requirements, documents required, or expectations prior to arriving to the airport.
  • F-1 and J-1 visa holders traveling during the pandemic are also encouraged to review OIE's COVID-19 FAQ for more information about travel challenges and entry restrictions.

F-1 Regulations allow students participating in OPT to travel abroad, but there may be additional risks and/or additional documentation to prepare.  OIE is unable to guarantee that students will be granted admission by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) upon return to the U.S or that the Consulate will renew an F-1 visa at a consulate abroad.  Although not common, there are reports of students on OPT having problems at ports of entry as well as being denied visas or experiencing significant visa delays.   The decision to travel abroad must be made by the individual student with an understanding of the preparations that should be made and the risks involved. 

International Travel information:

  • Pre-completion OPT Students:
    • As an individual on pre-completion OPT, you are considered to be an enrolled student. This means that you would follow the same procedure for visits abroad and re-entry as enrolled F-1 students. Additional documentation is not required for re-entry beyond those documented on our OIE's Travel Guidance Website.
  • Post-completion and STEM OPT:
    • You are eligible to travel abroad on a temporary basis (less than 5 months) and re-enter the U.S to continue employment. Please review our OIE's Travel Guidance Website to learn of the documentation we encourage you carry with you when attempting to re-enter the U.S.

Travel While OPT Application is Pending:

According to Student Exchange Visitor Program’s guidance, students participating in post-completion OPT may travel abroad while the OPT application is pending. However, travel during this period of time should be undertaken with caution for the following reasons:

  1. If a request for more evidence (RFE) is issued by USCIS: An RFE requires immediate attention by the applicant.
  2. If the application is approved while the applicant is abroad, the student will be required to present the EAD upon return.

Students who decide to travel while the OPT application is pending are highly discouraged from leaving the U.S until the application has been received by USCIS and the I-797 receipt notice has been issued.  Students should bring the receipt notice with them as proof that an application has been submitted. Although the receipt notice is a good substitution, admission into the U.S. is up to the discretion of the CBP officer, and there have been reports of students without their EAD work permit having problems at the port of entry.

 
Special Issues in Travel on OPT

Visa Renewal while on Post-Completion OPT:

OPT is a benefit of the F-1 status. Therefore, students traveling while on OPT and have an expired F-1 visa are required to apply for a new F-1 visa before attempting to re-enter the U.S..

Procedures and requirements for visas can vary between countries and are often subject to change.  As such, reviewing the visa requirements on the website for the appropriate U.S. Embassy/Consulate is the best way to prepare you for the visa application process.  Visit www.travel.state.gov to determine the procedures for applying for a visa at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in the country in which you’ll be traveling.

For general guidance and information on visa renewals, please visit the OIE’s Visa Renewal website.

Automatic Visa Revalidation for OPT Students:

Automatic visa revalidation allows F and J non-immigrant visa holders to visit Canada, Mexico and/or adjacent islands (excluding Cuba) for less than a total of 30 days and re-enter the U.S. with an expired visa stamp. Upon returning to the U.S, students utilizing automatic visa revalidation must present a valid passport, I-20 or DS-2019 form with a valid travel signature, and I-94 record. If you have an electronic I-94 record, it is recommended that you bring a hard copy during travel and present it upon exit and entry. Citizens of Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation. 

To view the Code of Federal Regulations regarding Automatic Revalidation of Visa, click here. Additional information is also available on the U.S. Department of State website.

Note: Non-immigrants who apply for a visa during their stay in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean are not eligible to use automatic visa revalidation if the visa is denied or delayed.

Accrual of More Than the Maximum Days of Unemployment and its Impact on Travel:

Students who have exceeded the maximum days of unemployment while on their OPT are considered out-of-status. While on post-completion OPT, you are permitted to have no more than 90 days total of unemployment. If you are on the STEM extension, then you cannot accrue more than 150 days of unemployment during the total 3 year OPT period. If you depart the U.S. and attempt to re-enter the U.S. after accruing more than then allowed number of unemployment days, you will may face issues in returning to the U.S.

Time Outside the U.S and Unemployment:

Time spent outside the U.S during a period of post-completion OPT may be considered as unemployment, unless you are either:

  1. Employed during a period of leave authorized by an employer; or
  2. You are traveling as part of your employment.

If you are going to be outside of the U.S. for extended periods of time but will still be considered employed, we encourage you to ensure you have documentation from your employer to certify you have remained employed during your absence from the U.S. 

Change of Status and Travel:

Students who have/will apply for a change of status to H1B, permanent resident or any other immigration status should speak with their immigration lawyer prior to making travel plans.  Students utilizing the Cap-Gap extension should not travel abroad during the period of time between the end of the EAD and the start of the H1B unless they are eligible to return to the U.S. with the H1B visa stamp.

 

Click here for a comprehensive review and additional guidance related to travel.